- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 23, 2006

Bruce S. Gordon faced some tough criticism when he took over as president of the NAACP. But as the group’s 97th annual convention closed last week with a speech by President Bush and an extension of the Voting Rights Act, those who had pegged him as too centrist, too corporate or not enough of an activist said that he is “all business.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People began its search for a new leader in late 2004 when Kweisi Mfume announced that he was stepping down as president after nine years.

Names of possible replacements began to surface, including Jane Smith, former president of the National Council of Negro Women; Camille Cosby, wife of comedian Bill Cosby; and the Rev. Emmett C. Burns Jr., deputy majority whip in the Maryland House of Delegates.

But when Mr. Gordon, a former marketing and diversity executive from Verizon, was selected as the group’s next president, many in the civil rights community were surprised.

However, his leadership over the past year has silenced the critics.

“That ‘not activist enough’ thing is a bum rap,” said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. “I think Bruce addressed all the questions with this convention. … I mean, c’mon, he brought the president in, and took our No. 1 issue — the Voting Rights Act — elevated it and got it passed.”

Mr. Henderson said assertions that Mr. Gordon lacks the political wherewithal or sophistication should be laid to rest, allowing for the rebirth of a more business-oriented and more effective NAACP.

“He doesn’t mince words, and it’s clear what’s on his mind. And he’s results oriented,” Mr. Bush said in his speech before the organization on Thursday.

Since taking office, Mr. Bush had shunned the NAACP. After Mr. Bush made an appearance before the organization as a presidential candidate in 2000, the group ran an ad harshly critical of the then-governor of Texas for his refusal to sign hate-crimes legislation.

And Julian Bond, the group’s chairman, has attacked the president at every turn. Mr. Bond said at the convention that Mr. Gordon has turned the relationship around.

“Bruce Gordon has made developing a relationship with the president and the White House a goal of his tenure, and we thank him for his efforts, which are paying off,” he said.

While Mr. Gordon has made great strides on the national scene, it is his commitment to grass-roots organization and chapter-building that has the rank and file excited.

“Bruce Gordon has reminded us, the state conference chairs and the chapter presidents, to remember who our customers are, our charges, and get away from these personalities and parties, and speak to the issues,” said Cybil McNabb, NAACP Ohio State Conference president.

Although not all members and chapter presidents agree with Mr. Gordon on every issue, “he still listens to you and tries to work with you,” said Lorraine C. Miller, president of the group’s D.C. chapter. “Sometimes, these guys really get into their demagoguery and can’t hear anything, but that’s not Bruce.”

Mr. Gordon honed his personalty as a no-nonsense businessman and a master politician during his more than 30 years with Bell Corp., Bell Atlantic and Verizon, and as the son of longtime NAACP members.

“Bruce was on the inside at Verizon, and we work primarily from the outside,” said Hilary O. Shelton, NAACP Washington bureau director. “We have always needed an internal and external strategy to achieve civil rights, and it is to our advantage that he, now that he is with us, has that internal experience.”

It also helps that he knows how to craft and stick to a budget, Mr. Shelton said, given the organization’s past financial-management problems.

As far as Mr. Gordon is concerned, “it’s all really simple.”

“We need to be proactive, not reactive; address the issues of the people we serve in 2,000 cities across the country. And we can’t be anti- any administration, because we have to work with everyone we can to fix problems. That’s it. We don’t have time for anything else.”

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